How to teach simple past to beginners

Guide to past simple and past continuous verb forms

There are two main forms of the past that are used to make general statements about the past: the past simply and the past continuous. The two times are very different. Just use the past to talk about an event that happened at some point in the past.

  • Tom flew to Chicago last week.
  • Peter visited his friends in Florida two months ago.

If you are a teacher, use this guide on how to teach the past tense for more help.

The past continuous is usually used to refer to events that happen at the same time that something important happened in the past.

  • They were doing their homework when she arrived.
  • Jack studied while Dave cooked dinner.

The continuous of the past is also used to express what happened at a certain point in the past.

  • I attended a lecture yesterday afternoon at 2:30 a.m.
  • Alice was reading a book at six last night.

If you are a teacher, use this guide on how to continuously teach the past tense for more help.

Past simple structure


Subject + verb + ed OR irregular past tense + objects

I, you, he, she, we, they played golf yesterday afternoon.
I, you, he, she, we, they went to lunch at noon.


Subject + not (not) + verb + objects

I, you, he, she, we, they didn't go on vacation last summer.

Subject + has (not) + verb + objects


(Why, what etc.) + has + subject + verb + objects?

Did> me, you, us, them> attend the meeting last week?

Past continuous structure


Subject + conjugate the auxiliary verb "sein" + verb + -ing.

I was, you were, he was, she was, we were, you were, they were watching TV when I arrived.


Subject + conjugate the helping verb "sein" + not + verb + -ing.

I wasn't, you weren't, he wasn't, she wasn't, we weren't, you weren't, they weren't working when he walked into the room.


Question word + conjugate the auxiliary verb 'sein' + subject + verb + -ing

What did you do, it's seven o'clock?
What did I, he, her do at seven o'clock?

More instructions for past simple

These instructions are specially designed for beginners and contain dialogues and a short quiz.

  • Past simply with the verb "sein" for beginners
  • Past easy with regular and irregular verbs for beginners

Teach a Lesson About the Past Simply and Continuously

  • Here are lessons on the website that focus on the past simply or past continuously and its use with other times.
  • Then now - integration lesson for high school students.
  • Expressions of time - the past simply and the present perfectly compared and contrasted.
  • Continuously integrate the past - Continuously integrate the past into the writing.
  • Guilty! - Communication lessons with different past tenses.

Past Activities Simple and Past Continuous

Some activities to help you practice:

  • What did you do? - Using the past continuously in combination with the past simply.
  • A vacation in Italy - description of a vacation in the past.
  • Expressions of time and tenses.